The Gospel Herald -- Promoting the fundamentals of the 1888 message.


The Doctrine of the Everlasting Covenant in the
Writings of Ellet J. Waggoner

One can see that in this first presentation of Waggoner on the covenants, he set the groundwork for the covenant concept by defining the proper position of the moral and ceremonial laws. Whether or not every point of argument he used in his pamphlet is important or technically correct would be a study in itself. The main issue is that he understood the moral law as being binding upon man, including the Sabbath. That true worship was not the performance of any law although it included it. True worship consisted of a heart response, an attitude which was to be revealed in obedience to the law. Butler verbally agreed with this, but denied it with his inconsistent reasoning on the "two-plan salvation" idea. This was due to his narrow line of argument in regards to the law in Galatians.

At the same time as the law in Galatians was being discussed by Waggoner and Butler, the subject of the covenants was also being discussed. Several articles were written to show that the Decalogue was not the old covenant and, therefore, the Sabbath was still the seventh day. The most prominent of the authors of these articles was Uriah Smith. He presented the subject in the Review and Herald in a series beginning in September of 1887 and continued until November of the same year. He also had articles in the Bible Echo and Signs of the Times. There is still another article, The Two Covenants, that is not dated which seems to have come from this same period.52

The burden that Smith had in all these articles was to defend the seventh-day Sabbath just as Butler had in his pamphlet on the law in Galatians. The argument differs little from Butler in regards to establishing that the ceremonial law was the old covenant and the new covenant was connected with the ten commandments. The new material is found in defining what a covenant is and filling in the gaps in Butler's two "dispensations" or plans of salvation for the human race.

As for the definition of a covenant, Smith goes to a standard dictionary and states that a covenant is,

'A mutual agreement of two or more persons or parties in writing and under seal, to do or to refrain from doing, some act or thing; a contract; stipulation.' This is the primary, leading definition of the word; and in looking for the old covenant, we look for some transaction to which this definition will apply.53

This definition set the tone for the ensuing conflict after the 1888 conference because Waggoner and Jones were convinced that the meaning of "covenant" in scripture was not so definable from extra-biblical sources. They believed that the covenant of God was a promise on His part and a "so be it, amen" on the part of the people.54 This issue was to be a keystone to the disagreement between the two groups.

Smith also believed, as Butler did, concerning the two dispensations of salvation. Smith described the faultiness of the old covenant as being imperfect "simply because its provisions were not ample enough.55 He further clarifies by saying that the people had broken God's covenant, the old covenant, by disobeying the moral law. Being sinners, they needed to return to the position before their sin to receive favor from God. They had the rituals and sacrifices but these could not take away sin or guilt. Something "more effectual" was needed to do that and the new covenant was just it. Smith said that the ceremonial could not take away sin, but the way in which he has stated it has left the impression that sin was not taken away until Christ came.56 This was the same thought Butler reached in his interpretation of Galatians three.

The only other concept that Smith gives in these articles that deserves mention is that both covenants, old and new, were made with Israel.57 This questions the common idea that the old covenant was made with the Jews and the new with the Gentiles. In this argument, Smith makes his best contribution, which by the way Waggoner also taught.58

The Covenant Controversy of 1890

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Waggoner's View of the Covenants